Joyce Carol Oates is not a pleasure to read.
She makes me itch.
She makes me cringe.
She pisses me off.
But I still found it impossible to put down her latest novel, MAN
Reading MAN CRAZY made me realize just how much of a departure last
year's WE WERE THE MULVANEYS was for Oates.Yes, MULVANEYS was an
emotional festival --- running the gamut from full-out sobbing to
out-loud laughing, but it didn't have the same bleakness as many of
her other books do.
MAN CRAZY is a firm step back into that bleak arena. It was like a
slap catapulting me back to the Oates I first met in AMERICAN
APPETITES --- and taking it almost one too many steps
MAN CRAZY is the story of an abused girl whose psychological
traumas manifest themselves physically in her obsessive
face-scraping, scar- and scab-picking.
She can't stop. It made my skin crawl. But I couldn't stop
Ingrid Boone and her beautiful young mother, Chloe, go into hiding
from Ingrid's volatile father, a Vietnam vet who may have committed
an unspecified crime.
Ingrid and Chloe are truly sad. They get by on the money Chloe's
beauty brings her from men who vie for her affections.
But while Chloe is a sad case, Ingrid's pain is wholly
For every time I was teased in school for being too scrawny or
wearing glasses, I felt the same embarrassment a million times over
when Ingrid read a poem at her high school's awards assembly. Not
only was she shamed by the blood running down her picked-over face,
she had to suffer the silent stares of students in the audience who
see her as the class slut, looking for replacement daddy-love in
too many places.
That search for daddy's love leads her to the worst possible place
Oates has conjured in any of her books I've read --- a place of
pure physical, mental, and emotional pain. Left with no where else
to turn, Ingrid meets Enoch Skaggs, a satanic cult leader. Beaten,
raped, starved, and left for dead, Ingrid manages to crawl away
from the cult, saving herself in Oates's version of a total
Numbed by the scraping, the violence, the pain, I wanted the book
to end quickly. Maybe that propelled my rapid page-turning. MAN
CRAZY is a draining novel --- worth the time if you're a big fan of
Joyce Carol Oates, but not a good introduction to the full range of
her true talent.
Reviewed by Jennifer Levitsky on January 22, 2011